Speechifying

I think the impetus behind President Obama’s decision to make an address on health care to a joint session of Congress next week is simple:  the White House wants to play to the President’s strength.  His speech at the 2004 Democratic convention vaulted him to national prominence, and his speech on race during last year’s presidential campaign was acclaimed by many and compared by some, favorably, to the Gettysburg Address and other famous political addresses.  I think the President and his advisers believe that he is a terrific public speaker, and that the best way to get the health care reform debate back on track — after a month of contentious town hall meetings, rancorous debate, and falling poll numbers — is to get the President behind a podium in front of an audience, and hope that lightning strikes yet again.

And, of course, lightning may strike — or the President and his speech may be unable to meet extraordinary expectations about solving crucial political differences that simply can’t be papered over with memorable phrases or poignant pauses.   After all, President Obama has not been silent during the ongoing health care reform debate.  To the contrary, he has spoken repeatedly — to the AMA, at town hall meetings, on his weekly radio addresses, and in every other imaginable venue — about the need for health care reform.  So far, his public speaking prowess has not made a difference.

I think this is because health care reform is one of those issues where the devil is truly in the details.  Soaring rhetoric about the need to unshackle our economy from the burdens of health care spending, or to provide health care to every American, regardless of their economic situation, may ring hollow in the face of voter concerns about whether reform efforts will cause them to lose control over their own health care decisions and those of their family members.  The President truly will face a daunting task when he settles behind the speaker’s platform of the House of Representatives next week.

First Ladies And Alien Abductions

It turns out that Japan’s new First Lady has a very interesting life story to tell — one that includes traveling to Venus in a UFO after being abducted by aliens and knowing Tom Cruise in a prior life. Her career has included being an actress, a lifestyle guru, and a clothing designer, among other activities.

I don’t think it really makes any difference whether a First Lady, or First Gentleman, is colorful, or genteel, or sophisticated and trend-setting, or even a bit of a nut. You don’t need to be a master politician or cultural icon to attend a funeral, or listen attentively to a children’s chorus, or lay a wreath on a gravesite, or engage in the other ceremonial tasks that are the lot in life of First Ladies and First Gentlemen. What is really important is that the First Lady or First Gentleman and the world leader have a good marriage and good relationship, so that domestic troubles aren’t piled on top of the other burdens of leadership. It sounds like Japan’s new Prime Minister and his wife meet that test.

Vacation Time: Paris

Our firm has a wonderful benefit called the Seymour Plan. Named for the son of one of the founders of the firm, who was a committed traveler, it is intended to help associates broaden their horizons by going to a country that speaks a different language. The Seymour Plan pays for a round-trip airfare and has helped hundreds of Vorys attorneys visit countries in continental Europe.

In 1992 Kish and I took our Seymour trip and our continental European destination was Paris. We received lots of recommendations on where to stay and chose a small hotel called the Hotel de Banville. It was an inspired choice. The Hotel de Banville is close to the Arc de Triomphe in a quiet residential neighborhood and is filled with charm and grace. We stayed in a room on the top floor with sloped ceilings and a checkered bathroom floor, and you could open the windows, let the drapes blow into the room, and look out over the rooftops of Paris toward the Arc de Triomphe nearby. In the morning we would wander down the stairs to the colorful breakfast room below for a freshly baked continental breakfast and some strong coffee before setting out to explore Paris.

It says nothing surprising to say that Paris is a magnificent city. Although we were there in early April, when skies were grey and spring showers were ever present — so much so that my enduring memory of the trip is Kish, in a bright green raincoat, standing on the rain-shined streets of Paris — but even then the city seemed bright and full of life. We walked to the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour Eiffel, visited the Louvre and some of the famous sites from the French Revolution, and strolled past shops, cafes, and bistros.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

We had a wonderful time in Paris. We particularly enjoyed walking the boulevards, stopping to eat or drink coffee whenever our whims dictated. Some particular pleasures were the dazzling white Sacre Coeur and its surrounding neighborhood, the unexpected discovery of a statue of George Washington in the middle of a Parisian square, the Seine and its walkways, and the extraordinary flying buttresses, ornate Gothic architecture, and soaring interior of the Cathedral de Notre Dame.

We were not quite as taken with the Louvre, simply because it is so enormous and overwhelming. It seemed as though we walked through dozens of rooms featuring, to our uneducated eyes, nearly identical, iconic Madonna and Child images. It was nice to finally see Mona Lisa, but it was hard to get very close to it with the crowd gathered in front of the painting, filled with people jockeying to inch closer to the masterpiece. Winged Victory made a bigger impact on me and was easier to see.

Cathedral de Notre Dame

One final point about Paris: I’ve been fortunate to visit Paris several times, and I’ve never encountered anything other than friendly and welcoming proprietors and Parisians. Although some of the waiters can be a bit haughty — they take their trade very seriously, after all — the people themselves seem friendly and appreciative when you make the effort to order a meal using your high school French. I think France in general, in Paris in particular, has gotten a bum rap, and anyone who listens to that bum rap and skips a chance to visit The City of Lights is missing a tremendous experience.